As reported in Scientific American, new research points to the real-life benefits of trees. I’m not talking the makes-you-feel-good-to-be-connected-to-nature kind of benefits. I’m talking cold, hard, actual health benefits.
Researcher Geoffrey Donovan at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station recently conducted a study to find out what happens to public health when trees are eliminated from communities. In one case study, looking at communities around the Great Lakes, he found that an invasive beetle called the Emerald ash borer had been infecting and killing trees for a decade since 2002, eradicating an estimated 100 million trees in 15 states. Donovan and his colleagues collected looked at 18 years of health data from the counties—from before, during and after the borer invasion—and looked for correlations between loss of trees and human mortality.
Are you ready for this? They found that the loss of trees was associated with 6.8 additional deaths per year from respiratory causes and 16.7 additional deaths per year from cardiovascular causes per 100,000 adults. That’s more than 21,000 human deaths caused by a lack of trees.
And before you start yelling at me about the influence of other factors and causation and all that, Donovan and his colleagues modeled the relationship between between the borer and mortality across space and time simultaneously, and controlled for demographic factors like race and income. So his work seems pretty on the money.
While we can’t be sure exactly how trees benefit our health—whether through improving air quality, reducing stress, increasing physical activity, moderating temperature, or all of the above—I think it’s safe to agree with Donovan when he says, “Perhaps we should start thinking of trees as part of our public-health infrastructure.” Aaaaamen.